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Josh Miller: Still Alive and Filled With Music.

August 7, 2014

JoshMillerOnlineText by Christopher Malo. Image by Marie Alyse Rodriguez.

There are stories that are meant to be told. And there are people that are meant to tell those stories. Josh Miller possesses the rare ability to embody both of these sentiments.

“I’m not the songwriter who will just sit down and tell the story of something,” Miller explains about his process. “It’s always something in my life that I’m trying to work out and work through.”

The 21-year-old singer/songwriter has more than enough material to fill notebooks with lyrics and sheet music with notes. Most comfortable finding refuge behind a piano or a guitar, the songs he adds – then removes – from his Soundcloud page might give one the impression he is searching. Searching for a genre of music to focus on. That is until you press play and realize that he is deft and adept at several types, from orchestral indie rock to post rock, to hip-hop covers to acoustical mashups over Skrillex tracks.

“Snow creates crazy stuff,” he says about the song that features a mix over the EDM god. “Because I am super drunk, can’t leave, there’s a foot of snow blocking the door to my apartment. Ok, I can’t leave, something is happening, whether I like it or not.”

Silly drunkenness aside, there is a commitment to and seriousness about his craft. Save for trumpet lessons starting in the 4th grade, he is entirely self-taught. Guitar, piano, drums, trumpet, baritone horn and mandolin violin are all in the repertoire. He is now trying to pick up saxophone and cello.

His musical ADD nature has him toying with a mix of R&B with singer/songwriter folk stuff. Think: John Legend with George Michael’s “Careless Whispers” sax lines.

“So cheesy,” he laughs. “Fun though.”

Humble and soft-spoken as he sits behind a round table, he comes across as slightly introverted, yet not unsocial. The spotlight isn’t his life. Music is. Except when it wasn’t.

Miller spent years caring for his sick grandmother, even dropping out of high school during his junior year and moving back and forth to Colorado to try and do so. Her death, like the death of his grandfather and mother, left him in an understandably dark place.

“There was a point in my life when I didn’t want to do anything,” Miller explains. “I didn’t want to do anything that people wanted me to do.”

Instead of going to school or finding a job, Miller found himself bumming around, not only not working, but not making music. Trying to work it out meant constant internal battles.

Sick of not being able to do anything with himself, he started making changes. He finally went out and got a drivers license. He enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia. He started making music.

For seven or eight days straight, he woke up at 8 a.m., was at Fresh Produce Studios by 9 a.m. and stayed until midnight. There he worked hand in hand with Jake Detwiler to record his Mourning Routines EP.

“He’s definitely one of the most interesting musical personalities in Philly,” Detwiler says. “Probably because he’s restless. Ever since I met him back in 2009/2010, he’s had his foot in every corner of the music scene imaginable – even though you’d assume from a show that he’s strictly residing in that ‘singer/songwriter’ pocket.”

Detwiler played bass and guitar on the album. Nick Widmaier played drums, Brian Fitzgerald was on violin and Eric Coyne handled the cello.

Former Belle frontman Bruno Catrambone had recently reconnected with Miller and sat in on the sessions. Years earlier, Miller’s band, Among Trees, had gigged with Former Belle.

“It became apparent,” Catrambone says, “that Josh has dedicated everything to his music. That was something that drew me in right away and was audible in the music he was creating.”

“It was the rebirth of my music,” Miller says of the recording experience. It produced the song he is proudest of to date, the title track.

“That song turned out exactly as I pictured it in my head,” he says with an accomplished smile.

Ever since then, it has been music non-stop. A typical day involves waking up, taking a ride on his bike, walking his dogs Jack (Daniels) and Lucy (Rose, of Bombay Bicycle Club), making music and then going out to see friends play music. No job to get in the way. He has built a studio in his apartment in Mayfair.

“He’s one of those friends you can hit up at 2 a.m. with a song idea,” says Catrambone, “and you know that he’s also going to be awake, working on stuff.”

And a few months ago, he got a tattoo. On the left side of his chest, in a simple, handwritten script is scrawled, “Still alive who you love.” It is lyrics from the chorus of Bon Iver’s “Perth” track, off of his second album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver.

“That record got me through a hard time in my life,” he recounts.

As a record fan, Miller usually pre-orders the vinyl for upcoming releases. But this one was different. A friend leaked the album to him before it was released. While he and his friends sat in the music room of his grandmother’s house, his friends playing Super Smash Brothers, Miller sat in the corner on his laptop, listening to the record.

“That first line, in the chorus, still resonates with me to this day,” he notes. “People go away, people pass away. And something is always going to stick with you. You just being around them, they’re always going to be there. In some form.”

Miller is still alive. And these days, that life is a busy one, filled with music.

“I just want to play music for the rest of my life, every day, and connect with people,” Miller says. “I feel like that is the most powerful thing. Helping each other get through things. I know one person isn’t going to change the world, but why not take a shot?”

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